Dating in the Olden Times: How Renaissance Men Courted

30. August 2011

Throughout history, men and women have faced the traditional need to find love and fill their homes with the children and wealth that can best be produced by a great marriage. At the very least the marriage should look great in public.

Needless to say, deciding who you should marry is a major choice and should never be entered into lightly or while drinking alcohol. So the process of courtship has always been a big deal, even though it has changed dramatically over the years. This article concerns dating and courting during the Renaissance era.


The clothing of the day was a mixture of one’s normal wear and one’s nicer dress clothes. Obviously, everybody wants to put his or her best face forward, so men would wear their manliest tights and women would wear their largest dresses.

The early precursors to the walking around dresses of the Victorian era began during the Renaissance, and while these weren’t up to snuff for a formal evening they would do when greeting a gentleman caller.

Getting Ready

Getting ready for a date is never a fast or easy process. During the Renaissance, men and women first began to fuss over their looks in front of the mirror. During this era, women first began to retard the natural process of tanning by using lemon juice to lighten their skin. This era introduced some of the first modern types of makeup, as well.

Men had the unenviable task of becoming clean-shaven for their dates. This process was complicated somewhat by the expense of a proper shave, or by how challenging it is not to slit one’s own throat with a straight razor.

Since restroom facilities weren’t of the quality level we know today and chamber pots were still the primary means of relieving oneself, toilet water was employed to ease one’s smell for the object of one’s affections. By way of subtle scents, one’s natural aroma could be preserved without smelling like a stable.

Settings for Dates

Typically, the first date during the Renaissance would be in a meeting between the man and the woman’s parents in their sitting room or study. Once he had parental approval, the first couple of dates would happen in the home and under supervision of a matchmaker or parents. After a few dates—when the relationship began to take on some seriousness—the couple would be allowed to walk around outdoors and go to church together.

Dates were only somewhat formalized, but quickly got down to brass tacks. Are they getting ready to marry or are they just spending time idly?

Key Players

The key players were the parents to start with. They made the ultimate decisions as to whether the young couple could marry or not. In wealthy households marriages were often arranged, often making the couple themselves the least important parts of the union itself.

The beginning of such an arrangement was often with the parents contacting a matchmaker. After meeting with the young person, generally the daughter, the matchmaker would begin to review potential suitors and arrange meetings based upon the personalities of different young people.

Since arranged marriages were often made at an early age, the governesses of both the future bride and future groom would often contribute to identifying people who might work out well together. Since arranged marriages rarely involved meeting before the wedding day, the governess was key in determining who would be suited to whom.

However, one important group that is often ignored is the barristers who drafted up the contracts regarding dowry settlement. Dowries based on a family’s wealth were traditionally given for the bride, and both partners brought a trouseau consisting of household items.

The Steps of the Process

In most of the Renaissance era, dating was either for love or based on mutually beneficial business relationships between two families. Except for the wealthiest families, a young man would generally approach a woman’s father and ask to meet his daughter formally. From that point, it would become a matter of being interested or not.

As time would pass, a couple would talk more and be allowed more freedom to be nearly alone with one another. A chaperone would be necessary, of course, but sometimes a couple would be allowed to go to church together after a few months of courtship. During this time the man would often write the woman love letters if he were not near her to prove that she was still on his mind. This is the period which gave birth to serenading, not to be confused with catcalling.


If the couple really hit it off, they would go through a betrothal ceremony in which they promised to marry one another. While the wedding ceremony itself remains today, often a couple could skip that entirely just by becoming betrothed and then becoming sexually involved. Long courtships weren’t the way in those days.

Putting it to Bed

The Renaissance era was a neat time to attempt to court a woman. While men of that era had a difficult time with regard to wearing hosiery and their penmanship, the courtship process was often a fairly swift one. Families knew that striking the iron made it hot, and they often allowed courtships of only a few months. Since many of those unions lasted for life, they may have been onto something, as opposed to on something.



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